What’s next? That’s what Jon Kedrowski recalls thinking on Mount of the Holy Cross at age 8.
It was his first Colorado summit above 14,000 feet. “From there, you could see all these other mountains,” he says 32 years later, “and naturally, you wonder: What’s the highest mountain in the world?”
But Everest would not be next. He knew he’d climb it one day. “I just didn’t know when or how.”
When? In 2012, his first of two trips to Earth’s ceiling. How? Mostly through his resoluteness, firm as granite. That unshakable resolve he felt as a kid atop Holy Cross. That insatiable hunger for altitude. That drive.
That thing, whatever it is, that takes him to the moonlit tops of the state’s highest peaks, their rough floors preferred to his cushy bed.
Kedrowski has made a name for himself that way, snoozing on the 54 fourteeners. All of them in a remarkable 95 days in 2011. Solo sleepovers, mostly. His pal, Denver meteorologist Chris Tomer, tagged along for some, offering company and forecasting expertise. Both of their names are on the picture book that followed Kedrowski’s foray seven years ago.
“The purpose of it was to say anything is possible and, really, unlock some pretty powerful human potential,” Kedrowski says from Vail, where he grew up and remains, skiing 100 days a year and serving as his own boss at N.O.D. Enterprises, which has him leading expeditions and speaking at functions.
N.O.D. means “No Off Days.” That’s what Kedrowski encourages because, as he puts it: “We all have these untapped reservoirs of potential.” If only we constantly asked ourselves: What’s next?
What’s next? He had an answer during that fourteener slumberfest: the next fourteener, of course. And after those, Everest the following May. The high-alpine blitz was “jumpstarting the body for other parts of the world,” Kedrowski says.
Yes, his body would be one with the environment — the thin air, the altering terrain, the whims of nature above treeline. Once, on Mount Harvard, thunder shook him awake, and he scrambled out of his tent, seeking refuge lower as hail flew with the electricity all around him. Later, he went back up to find his shelter fried.
But the sunsets and sunrises made every climb worth it. The celestial shows were even further beyond description, the shooting stars so close they seemed catchable.
Today, such overnights are “mini expeditions” for Kedrowski. Practice. He has left the country for bigger adventures every year since 2005, when he tagged Russia’s 18,510-foot Mount Elbrus. The far-flung ranges have always been there to answer: What’s next?
Maybe Everest satisfies other alpinists, but Kedrowski has always wanted more, more, more.
Always has since he was 8. Flash forward, and he was 15, driving with a learner’s permit and bagging the rest of the fourteeners. Not even Capitol’s notorious “knife edge” could deter the boy.
A map and a compass were all he needed in the days before the internet made the peaks more approachable and popular. “You had to explore,” Kedrowski says. “So what I got into was exploring for the sake of exploring.”
He was pretty good at basketball, too, playing Division I at Valparaiso University. His 6-foot-3 frame didn’t help him much, but the mountains sure did. “I’ll be in better shape than anybody I play against,” went his thinking.
But going to school in Indiana, you can imagine how hungry he got. What’s next? Next was graduate school in other flat places, Florida and Texas, as he pursued a Ph.D in environmental geography. For his dissertation starting in 2007, he spent a lot of time on Mount Rainier, beginning what would be a string of 25 ascents.
That’s where Kedrowski developed his love for the Cascades. The range’s glaciated volcanoes were part of a project after his first Everest expedition. He skied the 20 highest in 30 days. The next month, in June 2014, he scaled Kilimanjaro, checking off his fifth of the world’s seven highest summits.
Bummed by his trip to Everest the following spring, when the 2015 earthquake foiled his plan to ski the previously un-skied face of Lhotse, he returned to Colorado with a bold idea. He joined a short list of people to rip down every fourteener, only the second to do so in a calendar year, he claimed. This was the basis of his guidebook on shelves now, “Classic Colorado Ski Descents.”
Next was Kedrowski’s sixth of the seven summits, Carstensz Pyramid in February 2017. Last year was another climb-and-ski of Denali and a second ascent of Everest, this time without supplemental oxygen.
Now what? Maybe the last of the seven summits, Vinson Massif. Maybe the South Pole. Or maybe he’ll get going on another book, another dreamy photo collection from Colorado’s less-celebrated 12,000- and 13,000-foot summits at night.
“Just keep on rolling with what I love to do,” Kedrowski says. “Life’s too short.”
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